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An era ends at Children's Hospital.

O'Donnell Resigns After Guiding ACH Through Intense Growth Period

FOR MORE THAN SEVEN years, Dr. Randall O'Donnell has contemplated moving closer to home.

The chief executive officer at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock finally gave in Nov. 18. That was the day O'Donnell, who has been the CEO at Children's Hospital since 1983, announced his resignation to accept a similar position at Mercy Children's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

O'Donnell leaves one of the nation's most successful children's health care facilities -- a distinction due, in large part, to O'Donnell's guidance. He has been at the helm through the greatest growth period in ACH history.

When he joined the hospital administrative staff in 1980, Children's Hospital had only 87 beds and 350 employees.

The number of beds has tripled to 272.

The number of employees has increased almost sevenfold to about 2,400.

The hospital's annual budget has grown from about $9 million in 1980 to more than $150 million in 1992.

It is now the sixth-largest children's hospital in the country.

"Those are just statistics," O'Donnell says as he sits in a modest office on the fourth floor of the Little Rock hospital. "The most important accomplishments are the fact that we have a comprehensive medical center here for children in our state that provides one class of care for all children, regardless of their socio-economic grouping.

"Every child is going to be treated the same whether they've got platinum insurance or have no coverage whatsoever."

In 1985, ACH received the Distinguished Service Award of the Association for the Care of Children's Health.

"That typifies the caring nature of this organization," O'Donnell says. "We can provide any service that's available anywhere. No child needs to leave the state of Arkansas in order to get sub-speciality pediatric care."

Still Expanding

Children's Hospital had just begun the first phase of its $27 million building program when O'Donnell joined the staff in 1980 from a children's hospital in Buffalo, N.Y.

Twelve years later, ACH is still expanding.

It is in the process of renovating the old Baptist Medical System hospital building into a research center that will provide 115,000 SF of space.

Mercy Children's Hospital in Kansas City is about two-thirds the size of ACH, O'Donnell says. But it is only hours away from his wife's family in the Des Moines, Iowa, area and his sister in Omaha, Neb.

The O'Donnells have been unable to visit with their families regularly for 15-20 years.

That is the primary reason for the move to Kansas City, he says.

"About six or seven years ago, this same hospital approached me," O'Donnell says. "I had just at that time agreed to stay on as the CEO here. My wife said, 'Gee, I wish they had called last month.'

"At that time, I made a commitment to my wife that should that opportunity become available again, I would take a very serious look at it."

Phillip K. Gilmore, the administrator and chief operating officer at Children's Hospital, is serving as interim CEO.

A search committee soon will begin the nationwide search for a new CEO, says Diane Mackey, president of the hospital's board of trustees.

"It will be up to the board to direct the search committee as to the specific characteristics of the new CEO," says Mackey, a lawyer with the Little Rock law firm of Friday Eldredge & Clark. "There are some obvious attributes that you want from any good manager. But we are a special hospital and we will, therefore, want a special CEO."

Mackey says there is no definite timetable, but adds that the committee will move to find the best administrator as soon as possible.

Upon tendering his resignation, O'Donnell promised to remain at the hospital for 60 days.

The search committee will use a professional search firm to find candidates for the job.

All applications will be accepted, including any from staff members already at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

Expect Gilmore to be a serious candidate. He says he would be interested in becoming the permanent CEO.

A Life-Saver

Gilmore had his first extensive contact with Arkansas Children's Hospital six years ago when one of his children became ill.

At the time, he was president and administrator at Warner Brown Hospital, a 185-bed facility in El Dorado.

He and his wife have five children. Their second youngest, Jonathan, was 2 months old when they learned he had a problem with his blood system.

"We really didn't know what it was," Gilmore says.

Jonathan was taken to Warner Brown and was on oxygen the entire time because he was breathing 160 times a minute.

"But he couldn't hold out breathing on his own," Gilmore says. "He had to be on a ventilator. I've always been in health care and my concern was for his life and well-being."

Angel One, the helicopter from Children's Hospital, was called to transfer the boy to Little Rock.

"At that time, my wife and I considered the worst -- we thought we were going to lose him," Gilmore says.

A doctor at Children's Hospital diagnosed Jonathan as having a heart condition. By the time the Gilmores arrived by car from El Dorado, Jonathan was being taken to surgery for a rare, congenital heart defect.

The surgery was successful.

"He would not have survived had we not gotten him here," Gilmore says. "He was basically in heart failure when he arrived.

"After that, my wife and I fell in love with Children's Hospital. A lot of prayers had been answered. Through that relationship, the opportunity opened up here."

Gilmore also has served as assistant hospital director at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. He was a clinical microbiologist at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

He earned a master's of science degree in microbiology, with a minor in biochemistry. He also has a master's degree in health administration from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Although Gilmore inherits a fiscally healthy hospital from O'Donnell, there is still work to be done, the outgoing CEO says.

"In no way do I think the job is done at Arkansas Children's Hospital," O'Donnell says. "A great deal has been accomplished, thanks to our support in all 75 counties of Arkansas.

"There is still a long way to go. This is just the completion of one chapter at Arkansas Children's Hospital."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Arkansas Children's Hospital CEO Dr. Randall O'Donnell's resignation
Author:Smith, David (American novelist)
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 30, 1992
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